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VOL. 127 | NO. 210 | Friday, October 26, 2012

Milestone Celebration

Java Cabana’s 20th year honors ‘a way of life’

By Andy Meek

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In a few weeks, a quirky Midtown coffeehouse that brims over with culture, from the poetry readings to the bric-a-brac inside to the owner who loves a good poem and the J.J. Abrams TV series “Lost,” will celebrate a milestone.

Java Cabana owner Mary Burns gets a coffee for customer Clark Gwaltney. The store will celebrate its 20th anniversary in November.  

(Photos:  Lance Murphey)

Java Cabana is the little shop around the corner from the bustling restaurant traffic at the corner of Cooper Street and Young Avenue. It’s turning 20 years old, and celebrating it Nov. 17. And this longtime Midtown haunt is blowing out the candles, so to speak, in style.

And why shouldn’t it? It’s a milestone that reflects 20 years of knowing that serving up a hot cup of Joe is about more than pouring liquid and doling out caffeine jolts, especially when it seems like wherever a person looks there’s already a Starbucks just about a stone’s throw from the next Starbucks.

The story of Java Cabana is a story that’s as common as the country is wide. Because, really, what small business could long survive without a dreamer-in-chief and customers so in love with its existence that they go out of their way to choose this spot, among all the others, as the place where they’ll put their money on the counter.

For Java Cabana, that starry eyed entrepreneur is Mary Burns. She worked behind the counter and ran the evening poetry readings in Java Cabana’s first few years after Tommy Foster opened it in 1992, and she bought it herself in 1998.

She still remembers when Starbucks sent marketing representatives through the area. Same for the psychic who once visited the shop and who was urgent in her insistence to Burns that it was important for Cooper-Young have a place like this one, like Java Cabana, where people are able to “come in and rejuvenate and retreat from everyday life.”

“I couldn’t imagine a better place to own a business,” said Burns, seated at one of the tables on the sidewalk outside in the afternoon sun, as the evening traffic on Young picked up and the dinner hour began.

It’s the neighborhood that’s had a big hand in sustaining the shop at 2170 Young Ave. And the celebration of its longevity will be partly in honor of that.

University of Memphis student Brandon Chase Goldsmith studies outside Java Cabana. The Cooper-Young business will celebrate its 20th anniversary in November. 

The festivities will include all-day half-priced drinks like the Lisa Marie, Jerry Lee, Django and Mystery Train.

Music will start at 7 p.m. with Star & Micey and Mark Allen. The Amurica Photobooth also will be on hand. And the café will show old footage of Elvis impersonator weddings and interviews with Foster, as well as a Java Cabana short directed by James Buchanan.

The Elvis touches are courtesy of Foster. His love of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll meant that in the shop’s early years, the back room of the shop got dubbed the Viva Memphis Wedding Chapel. In it, Foster presided over wedding ceremonies accompanied by an Elvis impersonator.

“Hundreds of people have gotten married here,” Burns said.

Celebrities who’ve passed through the café’s front door include Kate Moss, Slash, Ginnifer Goodwin, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Burns said the shop has welcomed visitors from as far away as Iceland, Australia, Germany and France.

“People who own a small business,” she said, “don’t do it to get rich. They do it because they have the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s just a way of life.”

The life in Burns and in her little shop permeates everything, even when she’s veered a discussion far afield to discuss the TV show “Lost” or poetry or creative writing. She finds a way to bring everything back to a few common themes, like connections and the commonality everyone shares. The way a coffeehouse, with its inviting aroma and communal purpose, is supposed to do.

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